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Health & Wellness

Higgins, home care workers push bill aimed at improving conditions for home care workers and those they serve

Better Care, Better Jobs Presser, September 7, 2021
Michael Mroziak
/
WBFO News
Shawn Walker, a longtime local home care worker, speaks as part of a push to pass the Better Care, Better Jobs Act. At far right is Rep. Brian Higgins, who is co-sponsoring the bill.

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) is co-sponsoring legislation that aims to provide a significant annual investment in the home and community-based care economy. He appeared Tuesday in Buffalo, joined by union leaders, workers and advocates, pushing for inclusion of the Better Care, Better Jobs Act in the federal government’s broader Build Back Better compromise bill.

Under the Better Care, Better Jobs Act, the federal government would provide an annual investment of $400 billion in home and community-based care.

Such an investment, bill supporters say, would help keep more people in need of home care living in their homes, because the financial boost would help caretakers stay on the job in an industry that now experiences steady turnover.

“New Yorkers, seniors, disabled New Yorkers are struggling. They cannot find home care workers, because people will not work for poverty level wages, which is where this workforce is after a decade of disinvestment,” said Bryan O’Malley, executive director of the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York State. “We need the Better Care, Better Jobs Act, because we need to invest in a home care workforce, to make sure that the folks who are out there doing this extremely labor-intensive, difficult and rewarding work. To keep folks out of nursing homes, living at home with their family, with their friends, so they can do that, and not starve or lose their apartment in the process.”

Higgins said the average wage for home care workers nationwide is $12 per hour. Yet their responsibilities, he argues, go far beyond such a wage. The pandemic, he adds, has highlighted that.

“It's exposed the fragility of the American economy and American society,” he said. “How could we pay people such low wages for the people that we claim that they're taking care of, that we value so much? We need to do much better.”

Higgins went on to question the priorities of government spending, pointing to a Brown University report that estimated the cost of the nation’s wars in the Middle East at about $6.5 trillion.

The 1199 Service Employees International Union hosted Higgins for a Tuesday afternoon roundtable discussion, during which he heard stories from some of those who work in the field. Shawn Walker, who has worked in home care for about 25 years, was among them, and she later shared her frustrations with news reporters.

“We'll take care of the clients in your home to make sure that everything that they need is taken care of. But who takes care of us when we can't go to work or when we get sick” she asked. “We still have to go to work and take care of the clients. We should not have to deal with unqualified people doing things. We need better training for home care workers. We need better wages, we need better benefits. And we just need help.”

Higgins sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, which is scheduled to begin hearings on the Build Back Better compromise bill beginning Thursday.

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